Rated R for intense violence, often resulting in death and some really over-the-top unnecessary nudity. The movie is an exploitation film, but it seems to normalize absolutely abhorrent behavior. While being a story of good versus evil, especially when it comes to condemning the drug trade, it allows its protagonists to enjoy vice with a bit of a wink and a smile, which is more problematic than straight up demonizing bad behavior. R.
DIRECTOR: Robert Clouse
I saw this one before! Sure, it's the one that tends to skew American because it was released by Warner Brothers and is exclusively in English. But I knew this one. And there's something that makes me a little uncomfortable. The first time that I watched Enter the Dragon, it blew my mind. Kind of. It kind of blew my mind. It blew my mind enough to say, "I really like this movie and you should watch it." But I never watched it again. But now I own this Bruce Lee box set from Criterion and I have seen a few of Bruce Lee's movies. And the thing I realized is that, despite being the the most enjoyable of the group, it still isn't the great movie that I remember.
Yeah, I said it. I might be so basic that I say that Enter the Dragon is Lee's best film (so far). People love saying that his Hong Kong / China productions are the amazing ones. I don't know about that. I mean, I really had a good time with the first one. But the production value on this one compared to the others is so much better. It's not like it is even that good, especially compared to the things that its stealing from. But this feels like a real movie for the most part. Maybe it is the inclusion of John Saxon and Jim Kelly. I don't know. But it does feel like Warner Brothers is at least paying for a portion of this movie. There's expectations that this would be playing in cinemas across the country. But it also still has a garage band feel to it as well. There are corners cut. You know, these are the scenes where the production either didn't care or just had to save money. I'm talking about scenes like the briefing room for the shadowy, ambiguous organization that isn't the CIA or the NSA, but like those organizations. Having Bruce Lee sit on a couch across from a low-rent version of Bernard Lee's M is really telling about what the movie considers important.
But there wouldn't be stuff like Mortal Kombat without Enter the Dragon. I will go out on a limb and emphatically state that Enter the Dragon is the best Mortal Kombat movie. It somehow works so much better without the supernatural stuff that the genre continues to infuse. I mean, I don't know if the movie really needs the plot being a coverup for a drug distribution ring. But movies like Enter the Dragon and Mortal Kombat --movies that rely on a martial arts tournament as a foundational element --almost shouldn't be movies. (This is from a guy who kind of likes this movie!) I realized in this second viewing that almost none of the scenes need to be in the movie. Everything that is in the film is an attempt to get this to bare-minimum movie length. The drug element was an attempt to mirror the obsession with exploitation cinema of the era. We couldn't just have a movie where there was a martial arts tournament run by a psychopath. No, there needs to be that hidden drug ring. You know, that old chestnut. It keeps happening. Live and Let Die, another movie that is Inception-level mimicking does the same thing. (I say that because exploitation films want to be James Bond movies. A James Bond movie, in turn, wants to be an exploitation film.)
But Bruce Lee is no James Bond. The film gives Lee a goal, to find revenge for his sister's death. Realizing that this makes Lee another unlikable character in a bevy of unlikable characters, they had to give him this secret agent element. After all, he fulfills his personal story ends when he kills Oharra (which I feel like was meant to be spelled O'Hara.) From there, Enter the Dragon simply follows the Bond formula. Lee sneaks out, investigates, finds a madman's underground criminal organization (which in this case, is painfully underfunded). He then fights the big henchman before confronting the big bad of the movie. There's a big army fight. In this case, it can't be the actual army because the actual army has guns and would mow down kung fu masters very quickly. Those helicopters arrive too late. But it's nice to know that they are trying to complete the Bond formula pretty hard. I mean, the movie does create these heroes, but only Lee comes across as completely noble.
The biggest problem I have with the protagonists is their complicity with sex slavery. I'm rewatching the Sean Connery Bond movies for the millionth time, but I'm thinking about the sexual politics of them all for the first time in depth. There was this celebration of women having to offer sexuality to men without choice during the era. It's really gross by today's standards. But I think that the movie subconsciously gets that in these movies because Lee doesn't partake. Williams and Roper do. (I mean, I like Williams because he's Jim Kelly and I really ironically love Black Samurai.) But it is gross. Roper, I'm not sure if his entire purpose is to have an ambiguous character arc. He's this gambling addict who keeps looking after himself, but he is unable to cross certain boundaries. The movie leaves him in this place where he's on the side of the angels, but we're not really sure what that means. He's morality is almost completely based on his survival. Because he chose the moral good, the moral thing to do would be to survive so that Han can't get away with what he's doing. It's all very muddied.
But I keep saying I kind of like this movie. Again, I like it less than I did the first time I watched it. But it does feel really fun at times. It's weird to see Bruce Lee speaking English fluently throughout. I don't know the story of Bruce Lee and language. The back of my brain is screaming that he lived in San Francisco for a while, which would explain why he's so open to making an American movie. But I don't know why America embraced the heck out of Enter the Dragon so darned much. Like, it's like many of the exploitation films that were coming out at the time. And Lee is super impressive with some of these stunts and choreography. But I don't know what makes it special. Maybe it's just because I've seen so much exploitation at this point that this becomes less special. But that could be some people haven't seen anything like this, especially in today's society. It is a welcoming movie to a whole subgenre of film and I get that. But when you've seen a ton of similar movies, Enter the Dragon only just becomes okay.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.